Latest FOI Response to “Regarding the Fiasco of the Guildhall Cinema”

By   3 March 2017

This is the response from Abingdon Town Council, and we thank them for their reply.

3rd March 2017

Abingdon First

By e-mail

Dear Sir / Madam

Freedom of Information Request – Guildhall and Cinema Improvement  Project

 

Thank you for your email of 4^th February 2017 in relation to the above.

 

Please treat this email as the Council’s formal response to your various
requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.  In
general, this email confirms when information is held by the Council and
provides you with it, except where exemptions are applied and redactions
are made for the reasons given below.

 

I will answer your requests in the order in which they were posed and
repeat each question in turn.

1. Could we please have a full breakdown of all costs involved with this,
down to the last penny?

The subject matter of your request is “regarding the fiasco at the
Guildhall Cinema”.  As there is no project by such a name, I take this to
mean the Abingdon Guildhall and Cinema Improvement Project (Guildhall
Phase 2 work). I have taken the start date for this capital project as
being the commissioning of a report in relation to the Guildhall and arts/
cinema in October 2011 and the end date of the project as being June 2015,
when the Council passed the resolution which is detailed below (section
3).  The breakdown of costs in relation to the project, which are spread
over a period of five financial years, is attached. Guildhall

In presenting this information it should be noted that the scope of the
Guildhall and Cinema Improvement Project was much wider than providing a
cinema at the Guildhall.  In summary, the scope of the Project was to
regenerate the 1966 section of the property, including the Abbey Hall,
alongside some works to the historic part of the Guildhall.

The plans included the following:

o New Purpose built 100 seat cinema by way of extension to the Abbey
Hall;
o Improved and refurbished 220 seat multi-use Abbey Hall with potential
for being second screen;
o Separate entrance for cinema;
o Café Bar area with glazed aspect to street;
o Improved DDA access through glazed lift;
o Various heritage improvements to older buildings;
o Retain commercial kitchen.

Consequently, I have included the costs in relation to the wider capital
project and this will include items which do not relate to the proposed
cinema and which relate to the building more generally, beyond this
specific project. It is not possible to allocate or apportion the costs
which relate specifically to the cinema aspects of this Project.

It should also be noted that the costs include (i) those of making an
application for a major HLF grant and (ii) requesting expressions of
interest in the Project from commercial cinema operators following which
the Council invited a number of operators to submit “Outline Solutions” in
relation to the Project.

 

Guildhall

 

 2. What monies were spent on “fact finding”, entertaining, soft-soaping
of potential cinema operators?  The expenditure in relation to the
Abingdon Guildhall and Cinema Improvement Project are attached.
Depending on your definition of “fact finding,” monies were spent on
“fact finding” across most of the various categories which are shown.
There was no expenditure on “entertaining, soft-soaping of potential
cinema operators”.

 

3. Iain Littlejohn, who was responsible for this at the outcome, keeps
saying (Abingdon Blog comments), that there was a commercially viable
operator who could have made this work.  Is this so, and who was this
operator.  (Cannot be confidentially sensitive now that there is no
longer potential for a cinema), and if so, why wasn’t this operator
taken up on this? 

As a point of information, Iain Littlejohn was Chairman of the Guildhall
Committee when the Guildhall Cinema project commenced i.e. at the outset.
However Mr Littlejohn was not a councillor in June 2015 when the Council
decided not to proceed with the Project and therefore was not party to the
decision “at the outcome”.

I can confirm that, following advertising for expressions of interest in
the Project, the Council invited a number of operators to submit “Outline
Solutions” in relation to the Project.

In your question you refer to “a commercially viable operator”.  What
constitutes a commercially viable operator, or a commercially viable
operation, may viewed to be a subjective opinion and not an information
request. However I can confirm that all the bidders who were invited to
provide Outline Solutions in relation to the project were established
cinema operators.

You go on to ask “why wasn’t the operator taken up on this?” The reason
that none of tenders was accepted is detailed in part of the resolution of
the Town Council of 24^th June 2015 when it was resolved that:

“following the tender exercise undertaken earlier this year, the bidders
be advised that, having reviewed the tenders, the Council would not be
taking its proposals forward. This is because:

i. The levels of capital investment were not sufficient for the Council to
be able to afford the project without a loan which the Council
considers to be an unreasonable cost against future budgets and

ii. Proposals in terms of ownership, management and operation were such
that these were not compatible with the continued operation of the
facility as a public and community asset and facility.”

In relation to your request for the Council to disclose who “the
commercially viable operator” was there were, as stated above, a number of
bidders who submitted tenders and I am not in a position to release their
details.  This is on the basis of the absolute exemption set out in
Section 41 (1) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 which states:

“(1) information is exempt if – a) it was obtained by the public authority
from any other person (including another public authority), and b) the
disclosure of the information to the public (otherwise and under this Act)
by the public authority holding it would constitute a breach of confidence
actionable by that or any other person.”

The guidance on this exemption is clear in that it is designed to give
those who provide confidential information to public authorities assurance
that their confidences will continue to be respected.  However, the
Council is aware of its duty to consider the public’s interest in
disclosure when weighing it against its the duty of confidentiality.  In
this case, it is considered that the public interest in disclosure does
not outweigh that of confidentiality.  The procurement process in relation
to cinema tenders was dealt with under confidential session and the
Council gave assurances, both at meetings and in the documentation to
bidders, that their identity and their bids would remain confidential.

 4. Will any councillors responsible for this (past or present), be held
to account for wasting tax payers money?  

This is not a request for information.  However, I would confirm that all
expenditure on the Guildhall and Cinema Improvement Project was made
properly by the Council using its powers to incur expenditure in relation
to a service, the Guildhall, a service which is the responsibility of the
Town Council.

Yours sincerely

Nigel Warner

Town Clerk

Abingdon-on-Thames Town Council

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